By Joshua Madden
Mostly everyone can agree that money doesn’t buy happiness, but few people would decide that they need to write a book to actually prove that claim.
However, that is exactly what James A. Roberts, a marketing professor at Baylor, did with his new book “Shiny Objects.” Roberts explores the history of the American Dream and asks a pretty reasonable question: Where did it all go wrong?
Originally based on the idea that we could all work hard and provide a decent life for ourselves and our families, the American Dream has become warped. Everyone wants to get rich quick with minimal work and maximum gain. Gone is the sense of reason that once made the American Dream tenable for the public, and so Roberts explores how we can attempt to get that original dream back.
Few disagree with Roberts’ premise that money actually doesn’t buy happiness — as I mentioned earlier, it’s something we all know deep down to be true — but Roberts points out that we don’t act like it’s true, even if we believe it. American spending habits deserve a large part of the blame for our current economic mess, yet no one seems to make any real effort to stop it from continuing. If anything, Americans want to get back to a living situation where they can go out and spend money again.
Roberts covers a wide variety of subjects in “Shiny Objects.” Among others, he discusses history, political science, economics, psychology and genetics, but none of these topics feel out of place. Part of the reason for this is that the book seeks to be a complete exploration of consumerism, and in this respect, I feel like it succeeded.
There are self-help elements to the book, but I don’t think it’s fair to call “Shiny Objects” exclusively a self-help book. The book could have easily gotten repetitive, but the wide variety of topics Roberts pulls together effectively prevents that from happening, but the book still maintains a clear focus.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that devoted time to talking about former Vice President Nixon and the “Kitchen Debates” only to turn around and talk about the rise of mega-churches in America. Consumerism, unlike the purchases it fuels, cannot be easily placed into a one-size-fits-all box.
Whether you’re interested in the history of the American Dream, curious about modern marketing techniques or simply wanting to balance your household finances, “Shiny Objects” is a worthwhile read. Just about everyone can find something of value here.
“Shiny Objects” is a successful foray into figuring out why Americans spend so much money. We do it, to paraphrase “The Matrix,” only because it is what society means for us to do, not because we actually need to buy a third home and a houseboat.
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